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The Stage And Stage Degenerates
by [?]

BY ROBERT LEE WYCHE.

Here and there in the big and little towns of America cranks are busily working for the elevation of the stage. Every 2 x 4 newspaper man who thinks he has a mission, every preacher who desires to make a sensation in the pulpit, every maiden novelist whose feminine mind battens in pruriency, every old maid who has missed her opportunity to be manhandled and wishes to reform a race she has done nothing to increase, every two-for-a-quarter evangelist between Bangor and Los Angeles is talking a lung out for the public on the subject of making the stage higher and better. When Col. Hercules, not of Herculaneum, viewed the Augean stables he may have thought that he had a considerable job on hand, but he tackled it with a man’s strength and brain. By the help of his good right arm and a river or two he got rid of some thousands of tons of filth which went to enrich the levels lower down. Col. Hercules died in time to save his reputation. If required to cleanse the modern stage, he would pull his beaver over his brows and sneak out of town. Col. Hercules was a man who knew when he was over-weighted. He entered the ring only with such opponents as he stood a chance to best.

Once upon a time I boarded in a little German hotel in this city. Near it was the great Madison Square Garden. In consequence, the little hotel, which was very German–that is to say, clean and cheap,–was patronized by many actors and actresses. They had little rooms upstairs, got their morning coffee in the little restaurant and after the evening’s performance sat in the little apartment off the bar, where the floor was sanded and drank beer until the small hours. These men were representatives of their profession so far as America is concerned. There were no stars among them and none of the lowest stratum. They were of the middle class of the people of the footlights. Nearly all of them were married and a few of them had children. They had the small ambitions and the small amusements of their class.

At that time I worked upon one of New York’s yellow journals. I reached the hotel each morning between 12 and 1 o’clock, and always found the theatrical symposium in full blast. I was with these people for three months for an hour or two each night and think that I formed a fair idea of what the American stage is like. In those months I heard just two general subjects discussed–grease-paint and copulation. That was all of it. No science, no literature, no art in its higher sense, no news of the day, no politics, no sports, no history, no travel, not anything that goes to make up the intellectual life of the ordinary man. From first to last it was the business of acting, the demerits of some actor not present, the merits of those present, the pursuit of woman and the unholy pleasures of indiscriminate sexual lust. The dominating passion of these people was a petty jealousy. I never heard from them a good word for a successful brother artist. I never heard them breathe one generous hope that other men or women would grow happy and prosperous. I never heard them speak a kindly sentence for one of their ranks who had fallen upon evil days. They were selfish, they were brutally abusive, they were ridiculously conceited, they were all geniuses held down by a conspiracy of managers, they were card and dice sharpers, they were willing at any time to act the part of procurer or procuress for a consideration of drinks and suppers. I was rejoiced at the opportunity to study a type that was new to me, and when I got enough of it I moved out.